Republicans imagined Nov. 8 to be Christmas arriving seven weeks early. They woke up excitedly only to unwrap boxes of broken glass and dog mess.
Political actors who passively expect to find victories gift-wrapped under the tree deserve such presents.
Why did expectations beat Republicans so decisively on Tuesday?
The math of encouraging our side to vote on one day while the other side uses over a month in some cases to ensure that its people cast ballots predictably gifts the other side an advantage. Democrats bested Republicans in early and mail-in ballots by 44 percent to 30 percent in New Hampshire, 69 percent to 21 percent in Pennsylvania, and 49 percent to 29 in Michigan. In Florida, where Ron DeSantis went out of his way to encourage early voting and Republicans administered an educational beatdown to Democrats, the GOP won the early and mail-in vote by 43 percent to 37 percent. Principle does not require conservatives who lament turning Election Day into Election Month from instructing supporters to not mark ballots on all but the last day of voting; stupidity does. (READ MORE from Daniel J. Flynn: Ron DeSantaClaus: A Star Is Born)
The people who politicize late-night comedy, sports, awards shows, and story hour at the local library, who boycott this cereal for where it advertises and that fast-food chain for the causes one of its owners once supported, naturally all vote. So long as this total-politics mindset — which its beneficiary, Joe Biden, ironically addressed Wednesday in saying that Americans “don’t want every day going forward to be a constant political battle” — prevails, kiss off the idea that in-power Democrats will take the foot off the gas during midterm elections. The hyper-politicized wear a uniform and come out to play for their team no matter the conditions (high inflation, sputtering gross domestic product, scary crime, massive deficits). That Democrats voted into the U.S. Senate a brain-damaged man who never held a real job prior to entering politics illustrates the hyper-partisan new normal.
The Dobbs decision energized pro-abortion voters and caused complacency in pro-life voters. The abortion demographic — unmarried women — favored Democrats over Republicans by 37 percentage points. Dobbs ratcheted up intensity; it also exposed that most of the people do not side with most of the angels on the issue. A tic that forces people to believe that majorities always believe what they believe prevents many from acknowledging this reality on abortion and so many other questions. In Kentucky — not exactly New York — a pro-life ballot question failed. Ballot measures swung in the direction of the pro-abortion side in Montana, California, Vermont, and Michigan, too. While one school of thought encourages Republicans to avoid talking about such an unpleasant issue that favors the opposition, another indicates that in imitating Teller rather than Penn conservatives ensure through their silence that voters hear one side of the argument.
Donald Trump pathetically still talking about how he really won in a “landslide” reduces him to a Miss Havisham–like figure refusing to take off the wedding dress or throw away the decades-old wedding cake left on the table. The word for any politician mired in the past rather than talking about the present and future? Loser. Moreover, insisting that external injustices rather than internal defects caused a defeat robs one of the ability to correct mistakes. Trump making the donning of that frayed, yellowing gown a precondition of his support ensured primary victories and general defeats in winnable races in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and points beyond. Republicans ridiculed their opponents’ Jan. 6, 2021, obsession as distant from voters’ Nov. 8, 2022, concerns, but MAGA’s fixation on Nov. 3, 2020, strikes as not only more distant but cultish. Like Hare Krishnas, the members of this sect appear to one another as intensely devoted to something holy but as vacant and unsettling to everyone else.
An elderly billionaire with winning ideas but a loser’s ego started the 2022 cycle by putting pride ahead of principle (and party) in orchestrating a doomed primary challenge of solid conservative Brian Kemp in Georgia. He ended it by unwisely teasing a presumed presidential-run announcement and by calling Ron DeSantis, who turned out to be one of the saving graces for Republicans in 2022, “Ron DeSanctimonious” in a bizarre attack on a fellow conservative days before an election. In between, he emasculated J.D. Vance in front of his supporters by claiming that “J.D. is kissing my ass” for support and generally stole the stage from candidates he reduced to cheerleader roles. For an encore, he bragged that he got more votes in Florida than the night’s big Republican winner and kicked when down the losing candidates he supported. Democrats, savvy enough to see a loser where those with 2020 voter-fraud fixations saw winners, poured money into the primary campaigns of so-called MAGA candidates; all who won in the spring lost in November. While supporters of Trump loyalists blasted Mitch McConnell for pulling money from their favored candidates, Marc Thiessen dished hard facts in the Washington Post by noting that PACs affiliated with the Republican Senate leader spent $238 million on Republican candidates this cycle, while Trump’s PACs, despite raising $161 million, spent about $15 million. The Richie Aprile of American politics essentially told candidates he ostensibly supported, “If there’s anything you can do for me, let me know.”
Democrats should and do celebrate 2022 as stealing victory from the jaws of defeat, and Republicans should and do mourn it as a missed opportunity.
Inflation at a 40-year high, an economy that shrank for two quarters this year, violent crime rising in large cities, a porous border, and events in Afghanistan and Ukraine highlighting the lack of respect for Biden all figured to make 2022 a strong year for Republicans, particularly in the context of the history of midterm elections serving humble pie to the party in power and reapportionment favoring the GOP. Instead, Democrats added governors, Republicans made single-digit or maybe low double-digit House gains, and the elections again look a better-than-even bet to stalemate the Senate.
Yes, encouraging developments occurred in New York and Florida, particularly in Miami-Dade County. And Republicans took the speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi. But Democrats should and do celebrate 2022 as stealing victory from the jaws of defeat, and Republicans should and do mourn it as a missed opportunity.
Republicans need not passively sit by for another Election Day disappointment. They can take the corrective action.
They must address the early-voting gap by prioritizing mail-in ballots the way they once dominated on absentee ballots.
If conservatives wish to win elections and leave abortion to the states, then persuasively making the case for the people governing themselves instead of the courts imposing one-size-fits-all rules and championing babies — surely a more sympathetic interest group than grown men demanding a place in the woman’s locker room — needs to become a priority. One need not, and should not, fixate on such an indelicate subject around election time. But conservatives — not candidates but conservatives — who stay silent in an ongoing argument lose that argument.
Trump, a president who did right on foreign policy, immigration, judges, regulations, and so much else, cannot move on from his loss. So, Republicans must move on from him. This cure would prove worse than the disease if anyone interprets it as returning to the approach of the Romney-McCain-Bush era of squish Republicans. Fortunately, Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin in 2021 and Georgia’s Brian Kemp in 2022 offer a template. They won by deftly staying loyal to conservative principles without tethering themselves to the former president’s personal grievances. Embracing his ideas while ignoring him — the latter always a wise course when dealing with one suffering from a personality disorder involving narcissism — seems the best of many bad options.
Acknowledging defeat hurts. But winners, who offer congratulations rather than shout no fair, will find the key to future victories in current defeats.